Spoilers. Kevin McFarland reviews the second of Breaking Bad's final eight episodes, in which the show's dark protagonist spirals ever-nearer towards an ominous inevitability.
As Skyler sits with Hank at a diner, hearing some of her worst fears realized as he elaborates on what he believes Walt has done, she’s frantic. But then, Hank lets her know that her husband’s cancer has returned, and the conversation takes a noticeable shift. Suddenly, Skyler finally says something back—that she may need a lawyer—after already rebuffing Hank’s use of a tape recorder in public. Hank sees Walt as “a monster,” capable of horrific acts of violence, trapping Skyler and their children in the house against her will. But he can’t begin to fathom just how involved Skyler has become, how complicit with Walt’s actions she’s been, and the lengths she’s willing to go to in order to see what cards Hank is playing with.
The most explosive scene in “Buried” isn’t the off-screen shootout or its aftermath. It’s the pinnacle of domestic drama between Skyler and Marie, two sisters who see each other often, spend time together as a close-knit family, but have simply been on different wavelengths throughout the series. Initially, Marie’s kleptomania sent her on a shoplifting and open house-raiding streak that privately embarrassed Hank and Skyler to confront her about it. But in a cruelly powerful reversal, Marie, in the guise of convincing Skyler to cooperate, actually discovers the extent to which Walt’s actions endangered the family he so vociferously claims to protect.
I thought it would be devastating to see Hank slowly make the connections to events before Fring, leading back to when the cousins attacked him. The choice to make Marie the other party in that scene, slowly asking Skyler about the pool, Gus Fring, the car wash, the gambling story, and finally to Hank’s shooting, racking up a list of unforgivable actions, carves the largest possible rift between the sisters. Hank punching Walt in the face was the initial catharsis to having uncovered Walt’s secret. Marie slapping Skyler is the most direct expression of horror in response to Skyler’s silence, her refusal to cooperate and show loyalty to her sister.
But then it gets worse.
Breaking Bad has always let the story behind Hank and Marie’s childless marriage rest in the background, unexplained. (Betsy Brandt answered yet another question about it in an interview with Vulture a few weeks ago.)
The slow realization that Marie is trying to remove baby Holly from the house ignites a fire between the two sisters. The two voices screaming and the baby crying forms the high-tension point for the episode, diffused by Hank interceding.
It crushes Hank to tell Marie to return Holly to her mother, and the piercing glare Hank gives Skyler as he turns to leave says that the wheels are turning on why she hasn’t been immediately forthcoming with information about her husband’s actions.
Making the leap to suspecting Walt took a key piece of evidence at the right moment, but--what would it take for Hank to realize that Skyler isn’t the victim, paralyzed with fear of a monstrous husband, but a co-conspirator advising Walt to keep quiet?
Walt’s reaction to Hank reaching out to Skyler is to immediately try to cover the biggest tracks. He takes all the unlaundered cash and drives it to the middle of a desert in a bunch of barrels, to try and bury the whole stash. (There’s something in the parallel of using barrels to dispose of bodies dissolved in acid, and using them to hide all the money Walt earned from cooking meth.)
But even that plan isn’t without hubris: Walt records the numbers on a seemingly nondescript lottery ticket. The numbers aren’t in an easily decipherable order, but just putting that out in the open again after Leaves Of Grass led to Hank’s epiphany shows that Walt truly believes he can avoid the fate that awaits him on his 52nd birthday.
And without a single word to his wife, he reveals the return of his cancer by fainting in the bathroom, face-planting in his underwear. When he comes to, Skyler is by his side, tending to his health, commiserating with the information gleaned from Marie and Hank. Skyler hasn’t killed anyone, but her decisions to cooperate with Walt crossed the line from victim to co-conspirator a long time ago.
Tangential to all of the White/Schrader drama is Lydia, acting once again in damage control mode, meeting with the Phoenix guys who are now responsible for the declining potency of the meth she’s exporting to the Czech Republic.
She is a woman who prides herself on her ability to oversee a massive amount of shipping traffic at her job, and approaches problems in the meth trade from a removed perspective. Lydia wants everything to run smoothly so that she makes the most money and remains alive, while keeping her hands clean (and wearing a $625 pair of heels in the desert). Her solution to the 68% problem is simple—call in Todd, his Uncle, and his associates responsible for the prison massacres to take everyone out and assume control of production.
These guys are brutal, and someone as sickened by violence as Lydia turning to them—just as she tried to pit Mike’s men against each other—shows just how little Lydia understands about this world. She’s a master of logistics, but when dealing with other human beings she’s had her back in a corner, taking wild swings of desperation, ever since she entered the show.
Aaron Paul has exactly zero lines of dialogue in this episode, and yet he conveys multitudes as Jesse literally spirals out of control—that slow zoom from above the spinning merry-go-round is haunting in the same way as the final shot from “Crawl Space.” He’s in a silent breakdown, with nobody able to reach him to snap him out of it—except for Hank.
“Buried” took an incredibly tense moment at the end of last week’s episode and let it go without much of an explanation. (Did Hank just push the garage door button and let him leave in silence?) But as far as cut-to-black moments go, this might be a bigger one. The only person walking through that door with enough history to absolutely shock Jesse is Hank. He’s got suspicions, but the first road block to confirming those suspicions emerged when Skyler wouldn’t immediately corroborate all of his thoughts with hard evidence.
Jesse doesn’t have the strength to swallow his guilt, nor the desire to remain quiet while protecting everyone else. Walt has inflicted so many horrors on Jesse, and his actions have infected so many lives through greed and an insatiable thirst for power, that Jesse’s former enemy number one pales in comparison. Imagine the possibilities of an unlikely partnership to take down a monster instead of creating one.
• Bill Burr and Lavell Crawford as Kuby and Huell get an incredible moment of comic relief, taking a brief moment to relax on the enormous pile of money in the storage unit and treat it like a bed. And Duck Tales shoots up near the top of the most unlikely pop-culture references to show up in Breaking Bad.
• That was one epic mustache on the extra in the DEA. Some casting director got very excited upon finding that man.
• As excited as I am to see Jesse Plemons and Kevin Rankin in a series together again after Friday Night Lights, the actions they’re involved in here makes it so much harder to maintain a glowing image of their characters from that earlier series.
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• If "Fifty-One" didn't silence the Anna Gunn critics, then her performance tonight certainly should. I've had my issues with how Skyler was written in the first two seasons, but the way Anna Gunn has slowly retreated from a buoyantly nosy character into an icily reserved powder keg waiting to blow when prodded too far fits in with the progression of the show into much darker sturm und drang. "Am I under arrest?" now goes on a list with "I.F.T" and "Shut up!" as her most memorable lines.
Read more Breaking Bad reviews and related coverage in the Boing Boing archives.
Published 9:49 pm Sun, Aug 18, 2013
About the AuthorKevin McFarland is a Contributing Writer at The A.V. Club and in other little corners of the Internet. His Alaskan Malamute, Dynamite, loves the snow so much he might as well be a direwolf. Follow him on Twitter.
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